HRSG Life Extension

Re-engineering, new surface boost reliability, efficiency, operational flexibility

Combined Cycle Journal
second quarter 2011

Experience teaches that after heat-recovery steam generators (HRSGs) operate for about 15-20 years, major work is required for one or more of the following reasons:

Upgrade of aging equipment, rather than simple replacement-in-kind, can offer owner/operators many benefits, Zahi Youwakim told colleagues at a Frame 6 Users Group meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz. For example, he offered his experience at Texas-based Huntsman Petrochemical Corp. Youwakim, a member of the user group's steering committee, is the utility plant engineer at that facility.

Huntsman purchased the Port Neches (Texas) assets of Texaco Chemical Co. in 1994. The acquisition included cogeneration units CG-9 and CG-10, each consisting of a Frame 6B gas turbine and HRSG. Youwakim, a 1980 Penn State graduate, knows this equipment well, having been a Texaco employee at Port Neches during its installation.

He reminded the mixed group of utility- and process-plant asset management and O&M personnel that steam system reliability is more important to a chemical plant than reliability of power production. Any interruption in steam supply adversely impacts product output.  Electric power, by contrast, can be purchased from others.


The single-pressure (600 psig) HRSGs for CG-9 and CG-10 had been problematic since first operation in 1991. Youwakim recalled, "From day one, the boilers suffered from a high delta p across the economizer, and it was not possible to deliver rated feedwater flow to the steam drum."

In addition, the circulation rate was too low and superheater gas temperature too high. Overheating of superheater tubes damaged fins and caused tube failures (figures 1, 2).

Overheating of superheater tubes damaged fins (left) and caused tube blowouts.

The HRSGs were supplied by Houston-based Energy Technology Inc. (best known by the acryonym Entec), which closed its doors the same year Huntsman purchased the Texaco facility. The units were designed to produce up to 325,000 lb/hr under the most favorable ambient conditions; stack temperature was 365F (figure 3).

Huntsman needed more steam from its boilers and also had to address other design deficiencies to achieve the 35-year lifetime expected of these units. One goal was to boost boiler efficiency by reducing stack temperature to 300F-325F, another to achieve 750F steam temperature [plus over minus] 25F for the entire range of ambient conditions—100F at 100% RH in summer to the rare 20F winter day—with normal operation of medium supplemental firing and the full 750F under the most demanding conditions at maximum fire.

The chemical company selected six vendors to bid the redesign/rebuild project, requesting cost and outage time to achieve the following alternative solutions:

Original boilers were capacity-short and problematic.

Youwakim said Huntsman told the bidders that it was not interested in an as-is rebuild. It wanted a re-engineered, reliable HRSG capable of covering the plant's wide operating range. Also, the successful bidder would have to explain to the chemical producer's satisfaction how it would address the three major deficiencies noted above.

Downtime to complete the project and safety were other major considerations. This dictated maximum prefabrication and working onsite 24-7 to completion.

RENTECH Boiler Services Inc. was the successful bidder. Lee King of RENTECH told the editors that his company seldom does in-kind replacement work. He said their engineers generally can get higher efficiency and lower emissions through re-engineering and are comfortable offering process guarantees on improvements.

Youwakim said Rentech increased boiler output from 300,000 to 325,000 lb/hr to 350,000 to 375,000 and decreased stack temperature to 320F to 330F, 35 to 45 degrees F lower than previously. He said a 25-degree-F drop in stack temperature reduces heat input by 8-million Btu/hr.

Re-engineered boiler increased steam production and efficiency.

Recirculation rate, formerly 7.5:1 to 8.7:1 depending on ambient conditions, was increased to a minimum 10:1 on the coldest winter day and to 14:1 in summer.

King said Huntsman's objectives were met within both budget and the planned 45-day outage (per HRSG) and without a lost-time accident by making the following modifications to the boilers (figure 4):

Riser piping for the evaporator section was increased to 12 inches from the original 8 or 10 inches to improve circulation.

Youwakim offered some general guidelines for others contemplating HRSG upgrades. First, he said, you must analyze the entire steam system and establish expectations. Then find a vendor amenable to a partnership that will assure success.

The most successful projects generally are characterized by a collaborative project team consisting of vendor and owner experts from engineering, fabrication, and field-execution disciplines, Youwakim continued. The team must be committed to meeting the contract goals, schedule and budget. The highest level of cooperation is necessary to adjust seamlessly to changes in weather, supply-chain upsets, etc.

Youwakim's final thoughts: Think safe, think smart, work safe, work smart.

Original economizer bundle was extracted from HRSG and replaced with upgraded design.